“Golden Age Thinking,” says a character in Woody Allen’s summer hit Midnight in Paris, is “the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one we’re living in.”
In an age of high unemployment and economic insecurity, it is easy to look longingly to the past, comb flea markets for antiques, follow nostalgia blogs, or spend Saturdays with John Hughes movies. A new book, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt wades into this nostalgia without drowning in it. Through text and artifacts—including postcards, photographs, matchbooks, and buffalo nickels—the self-defined “novel in pictures” provides a layered portrait of a girl trying to make her way in the world during the kinetic 1920s. Turning the pages reminds you a bit of what it felt like to climb the attic stairs and treasure hunt in grandma’s faded steamer trunk. Every coat button, baseball card, or gramophone record seems to conduct electricity.
“A week after graduation, I roll into Grand Central Station,” says Frankie, a newly minted Vassar College graduate. “Map in hand, I descend the iron stairs into the dim rack of the East Side Subway. All I need to do is get off at ‘Astor Place’ and head west. Sounds easy enough.”
While optimistic, Frankie’s journey has little of the recklessness common to tales of Lost Generation writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway. Though she certainly gets her share of dance halls and bohemian cafes, Frankie spends much of the book searching for a job: a prospect that was as tenuous in the 1920s as it is today. “Vanity Fair offers me a job as a reporter for their Society page,” she explains, “then withdraws the offer when they learn I expect to be paid.” Nor is Frankie particularly lucky in love: falling for the wrong guy, at the wrong time, on repeat.
Frankie’s teeter-totter between elation and catastrophe, between friction and progress, is a feature of post-college life that is as relevant today as it was nearly a century ago. As a reader, you are enchanted with Frankie Pratt’s life not because of “Golden Age Thinking.” Instead, you are charmed because her life—so carefully constructed and so elegantly detailed—is not so different from our own.